The only incidents I can honestly remember involving birds when I was young was getting pooped on. Nice. I was riding my bike home from the swimming pool and wearing my bathing cap. (a requirement at the pool) All of a “sudden something warm was runnin in my eyes, but I found my baby somehow that night.” Sorry bout that, seemed to good to pass up. Looked up and the culprit was flying just ahead of me. I recall seeing Red Wing Black birds perched on some farmer’s fence along fields in Iowa, otherwise, I got nothing. No hawk flying into my windshield, not one instance involving some kind of bird. You’d think there would have been something in my life that could be brought up, but if there was a poignant, scary, tragic, funny bird story in my life, it’s buried pretty deep.
However during the last 15 years, several times I’ve had a gentle nudge to pay closer attention to the birds that live around me. Equal parts says this happened in my slow-down-and-watch-the-birds-for-a-spell (after I hit 55). Second part were things I witnessed in North Muskegon. Sure we had seagulls flying around but as dwellers on a lake it was paramount that we be able to see the water, so no over-abundance of trees in our yard. The final part of my passion for birds was because of my friend, Rosemary.
Always the early riser, I went downstairs at the crack of dawn one morning and started the coffee. Looked out my bay window and noticed a tussle going on near some low evergreen shrubs in my neighbor’s yard. It was a Peregrine falcon killing/eating something. I did not move because I was afraid he’d flee. (The only reason I knew what kind of bird he was is peregrines were frequently featured in our local paper because they nest/raise their young-uns from the highest point in town). The highest spot in our area was on the smoke stack of the BC Cobb plant about a half mile away (as the crow-er-peregrine flies). Every spring this happily married falcon couple returned to raise another batch of babies. Soon there would be pictures in the paper about naming and banding the rather homely babies. Well this falcon finally decided he needed his breakfast to go, snapped up his meal and took off towards the Cobb plant. I opened the sliders, walked out where he had been to see if I could spot some evidence. Sure enough, a few grey/brown feathers were stuck in the dew of the grass. Sparrow, probably.
The second time a bird made an impact on my life was a nice summer day when I was canning a bushel of Bread & Butter pickles. I heard a loud thump on our front porch. The door was open but there was no one standing in front of our storm door. Hmmm. I walked in the living room, looked through the window and see a bird on the porch floor. Half sitting, half lying flat, not moving. His head was brown turning to a gray back with a black mask like a cardinal’s. The end of his tail was bright LEMON YELLOW! I’d never seen such a bird, dead or alive. I ran to get my bird book (a gift from Rosemary) and discovered he was a Cedar Waxwing. Absolutely stunning. While we had only one tree on the side yard in back, our front yard boasted 3 big pines.
I quietly walked out on the porch, leaned on the railing and saw he was still breathing. He must have flown into the window and knocked himself out. After about an hour he opened his eyes and instead of having his belly resting on the porch, tried to stand on his spindly legs. After a couple tries he could stand. He did not seem frightened of me or nervous about me being fairly close to him. He ruffled his feathers a few times so I could enjoy the reason he’s named so. The ends of his flying feathers looks as though they been dipped in melted red wax. Amazing bird to see in person. Ten minutes later he gave me a fleeting glance and flew to our nearby blue spruce tree. I was hooked.
Lastly Rosemary. She’s about 15 years younger than me and went to the same church. We didn’t have much in common. Her work took her all over the world as a big wig in the retail world of loss prevention. My job was visiting the elderly, home bound folks from the church. Rosemary asked if she could visit a couple ladies on my list when she was in town. Of course, they love seeing/visiting/listening to someone other than me all the time. (No comments necessary here folks, thanks). Rosemary enjoyed visiting her small group immensely and would report to me every month, unless there was an issue, which would mean a phone call.
Sadly about a year later Rosemary was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was in her early 40’s. Although she was much younger than most of the folks on my list to visit, once she had surgery (she opted to have both breasts and ovaries removed as a preventative measure, because her mom died of breast cancer in her early 40’s) and started chemo therapy, our roles really changed. Now I was part caregiver, friend and substitute mom.
Rosemary had been left several acres when her dad passed away, about a mile from Lake Michigan, which was the reason she was moving to Muskegon from Grand Rapids (about 50 miles away). Before she got ill, she had her dream house built. She was still putting the finishing touches on her fabulous house when she was diagnosed.
Without going into her excruciating cancer journey, (I wrote a story about Rosemary in November of 2014) my point was her wooded acres. There wasn’t a better birder around than Rosemary. Feeders everywhere outside, including several for hummingbirds. And the windows of her house made it easy to become a fan of the birds. After a long day at the Johnson Cancer Center, it was peaceful and pleasant to sit in her house and watch the simple lives of her birds. The icing on the cake was her love of Baltimore Orioles every spring. I wanted them at my house so bad. Rosemary wasn’t sure I could attract them or humming birds. According to her, both liked to have a nearby tree to flee to after eating or becoming frightened, but I was willing to try.
I had some success with both birds while we lived in North Muskegon thanks to Rosemary’s encouragement (ok, prodding). But nothing like the variety of bids we’ve watched/fed since moving to Jackson 4 years ago. More trees, quiet neighborhood and I’ve upped my game in offering better foods and feeders. Hubs keeps the feeders filled and corn on the cob hung from a tree for the squirrels. Rosemary would be pleased and thrilled about my feathered friends who regularly dine in my back yard. The birds are too far away to get good pictures, and you know what a lousy photographer I am.
This is our third year of enjoying several pair of Baltimore Orioles snacking on oranges and grape jelly. (No, not my home canned stuff. It’s way too much work to feed to the birds). They show up about May first, eat heartily for 6-8 weeks, then we don’t see much of them anymore. This year Hubs was doing an outside project for a couple weeks near the feeders. Said he heard a different bird and finally spotted him-an Eastern Bluebird. I wasn’t getting around very well after knee replacement so I missed the few times John got to see them. But I was rewarded one morning when I was raising our bedroom shades. There sat a grumpy bluebird in my clump river birch tree just staring at me. I stared back until he blinked and flew away.
Besides the Robins, Blue Jays, Cardinals, (go Cubs) Martins, Red Winged Blackbirds, purple finches, Northern Flicker and Hairy woodpeckers (they love our suet) we’ve added a couple of pair of Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, American Goldfinches and one little Indigo Bunting in the backyard. We marvel at their beauty and antics.
I got a new Hummingbird feeder this spring, and placed it in front of my large living room window. I hoped they would be less skittish if they weren’t close to the other feeders and birds. They didn’t show up immediately but but the wait has been worth it. I can’t believe the difference in size and colors of the hummingbirds. Since the feeder is only a few feet away I have captured some decent shots on my phone. I’m tickled because I often see them fly into my clump river birch from the feeder. My tree is only 3 years old but I can easily watch them flit from branch to branch. I know they can be terribly territorial but I’ve only caught 2 near the feeder at one time giving each other a ration of grief.
I’m envious of bird watchers who routinely hike out in the woods, feast on their amazing finds and post them for the less fortunate (namely me) to enjoy. I’ve yet to see an owl or pileated woodpecker. (I live a sheltered life). But I’m very grateful for the wonderful varieties who make their appearance in my yard everyday, summer and winter. It took me this long to realize everyday life without some feathered friends is for the birds…